11 March 2022

Playgroups that give children with learning difficulties a good start in life

| Evelyn Karatzas
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People sitting on a rug on the grass and playing with objects

The Loose Parts playgroup at John Knight Memorial Park in Belconnen. Photo: Supplied.

After months of disruption to early learning centres and playgroups due to COVID, the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute has announced the re-activation of its Good Start in Life project.

Launched in November 2020, the project aims to improve early childhood services delivery and address local community needs.

Australian Early Development Census data indicated worsening trends in early development for many children across the Belconnen district.

The project is funded by an $870,000 grant from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for early learning programs and services targeting childhood development and reducing the number of Canberra’s developmentally-vulnerable children.

The funding provided by the MRFF has gone towards many children’s playgroups and early learning institutes to benefit children with learning difficulties.

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University of Canberra Health Research Institute director and chief investigator of the Good Start in Life project Rachel Davey said the first few years of a child’s life are critical and can often be quite challenging.

The program looks to address some of the issues around childhood developmental vulnerability and health inequity in Canberra for children aged zero to five years old.

“The early years are crucial in terms of long impacts on life span, health and wellbeing and there are lots of children in the Canberra area who are progressing well,” she said.

“However, there’s an increasing number of children that are falling behind in their developments in things like their physical health, their social language and communication skills and their emotional developments.

rug on grass and sensory play items

The playgroup runs every day for young children and their families at John Knight Memorial park, Aranda sports ground and in Charnwood. Photo: Supplied.

“This project is really trying to target that by offering a range of different services but also working with our local partners in trying to integrate early childhood services much better and connect parents and young children to those services.

Ms Davey said the project’s Loose Parts Play playgroups were a key intervention. Held in three locations across Canberra – John Knight Memorial park, Aranda sports ground and in Charnwood – they welcomed all children and their families.

The playgroups are unstructured and contribute to early learning support and development for children through child-led play but can also provide opportunities for families to connect with health professionals, whose services may assist any children who are struggling.

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“We have also been working with our local partners and we have developed our own outreach allied health services where we have clinical educators and students from occupational therapy, from speech pathology, from nutrition and dietetics,” Ms Davey says.

“We encourage all local families to come along to the playgroups and provide them with the opportunity to discuss their concerns with health professionals and access early intervention services where needed.

“The bottom line is, we want to help those children develop from those years from zero to five.”

The playgroups are held every day between 9:30 am – 11:30 am and can be found across Belconnen, Charnwood and Aranda. For more information, email goodstartinlife@canberra.edu.au

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